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Letter ends parishioners’ two decades of service


Two parishioners of a church in the New York archdiocese said they felt pressured to end two decades of service as eucharistic ministers after they wrote a letter to local newspapers in support of Sr. Jeannine Gramick and Fr. Robert Nugent’s ministry to homosexuals.

The parishioners, Anne and Ed Reynolds, have been members of St. Aedan Parish in Pearl River, N.Y., since its founding in 1966. Ed Reynolds, 67, became a eucharistic minister in 1977, and his wife, Anne, 65, became one in 1980.

However, after the pastor, Fr. Joseph Penna, received complaints about their letter, he asked them to refrain from coming up to the altar and subsequently accepted their resignations as eucharistic ministers.

The Reynolds’ letter was published first in The Journal News of Rockland County Aug. 2 and then in the Aug. 12 archdiocesan Catholic New York. The couple, whose 28-year-old son, Andrew, is gay, wrote that they had attended four retreats led by Gramick and Nugent and “found them to be the most compassionate, knowledgeable and holy people we have ever known.” They added that Gramick and Nugent were always careful to present church teaching accurately.

The Reynoldses objected to the Vatican’s language, calling it “particularly distressing to parents. It is not pleasant to hear your loving and beloved child described as ‘objectively disordered.’ Neither is it pleasant to be told that a child’s loving relationship with a longtime and faithful partner is ‘intrinsically evil.’ ” They said that such language could be used to justify prejudice and violence against homosexuals.

“As parents of a gay man, we cannot fully assent to the church’s teaching on homosexuality. To do so would be to deny our son and violate our consciences,” they wrote.

“I didn’t think it was such an offensive letter,” Ed Reynolds told NCR. “We love our son very much and support him and feel he does not qualify as disordered or intrinsically evil. He’s a wonderful young man who does wonderful things for other people.”

He added, “We know he didn’t choose this lifestyle. This is the lifestyle God gave him, and he’s doing the best with that.”

The couple said Penna was on vacation when the letters were published. But after his return, the priest called them Saturday, Aug. 28, to ask them to refrain from serving as eucharistic ministers as they were scheduled to do at the noon Mass the next day. He asked if the two could meet with him the following Tuesday.

At that meeting, Penna told the couple that complaints were made to him and to the parochial vicar, Anne Reynolds said. “My husband asked, ‘What does this mean -- are we out of the parish?’ ” She said the priest said no, but when her husband offered that they resign as eucharistic ministers, Penna responded, “Well, thank you.”

“We were both real shaken by that,” she said. “My husband served as an altar boy in the third grade. He was very distressed and hurt.”

She said that it was “obvious” their resignation was what Penna wanted. They later thought that by offering to resign, “we made it too easy on him.”

Penna declined to comment to NCR.

The Reynoldses said they would continue to attend St. Aedan Parish. Since their meeting with Penna, they have on several occasions remained in the pews when eucharistic ministers were needed. While some members of the congregation questioned why they didn’t go up to the altar, for the most part there has been no outcry, according to Ed Reynolds. “Our fellow parishioners are noncommittal,” he said. “They just nod their heads and say, ‘Gee, that’s too bad.’ ”

His wife said, “We’re not political people. We’re both just tired of secrecy and shame. We don’t think we have anything to be ashamed about.”

Anne Reynolds, who has been involved in antiabortion activities and has attended the March for Life in Washington, said that she and her husband “agree with the bishops on so many things. We’re really very conservative.”

The couple has a long history with the Catholic church. Both attended Catholic schools through college. All eight of their children attended Catholic elementary and high schools, and five of them are Catholic college graduates.

The two also have an almost 30-year association with a Carmelite community, first when it was in the Bronx, then after it relocated to Beacon, N.Y. Ed Reynolds, a dentist, donated his dental services to the nuns for many years. Sr. Michael Ann, prioress of the Carmelite monastery in Beacon, praised the Reynoldses’ long years of service to her community and to the church.

She also said, “They’re parents and as parents reflect the loving care of God and are naturally concerned for their child.”

Several of the sisters wrote notes of care and concern when they learned that the Reynoldses had stepped down as eucharistic ministers. “It was very painful to us, what happened to them, because they are very loyal church people,” the prioress told NCR. “I don’t think Jesus worked this way.”

Sr. Janet Blaxendale, executive secretary of the archdiocesan liturgy commission and head of the liturgy office, said she was unaware of the Reynoldses’ case and could not comment on it specifically. However, she said, “Eucharistic ministers are supposed to exemplify the best of Christian life in the Roman Catholic church. If an individual says publicly that they cannot assent to a particular teaching of the church then I think there is a question there.”

The Reynoldses say that the church’s teaching on homosexuality simply does not fit with their experience, and it heightens the danger to homosexual people, especially in light of what happened to Matthew Shepard last year. The murder of the young gay man in Laramie, Wyo., sent fear through the parents of homosexual children, Anne Reynolds said.

“We’re haunted by the idea that people can be killed for who they are,” she told NCR. “The people I’ve met have been wonderful people, and I think they don’t get a fair shake. It doesn’t help when the hierarchy insists on words like evil, disordered and depraved - words that justify violence. The bishops don’t mean to do that, but I don’t live in an ivory tower. I live with real people in a real house and I can see how harmful that wording is.”

National Catholic Reporter, November 5, 1999